Finally Got the Noodles

A few months back I had the opportunity to watch “Finally Got the News” on the big screen, at a small museum a block away from my little clinic.  It’s a documentary film from 1970 about/by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, created for use at the time as an organizing tool, primarily–though not exclusively–for auto workers (if anyone feels like it, you can watch it online; I particularly like the voiceover starting around 6:12, which could easily be applied to the current economic crisis, 40 years later).   By the way, the screening was *packed* – understandably, given the current crisis in general and in the auto industry in particular, and given the hunger people have right now for learning from the past to create a different present and possible future.

Now, the informal league of revolutionary acupuncturists and patients have their own organizing tool.  That’s right: we Finally Got the Noodles!  This book really is radical, in every sense of the word.  I think the presses must still be cooling off.

One thing that I recently “finally got,” partly from reading “Noodles,” partly from practicing, and partly from learning more about the history of Acupuncture in the U.S., is that Community Acupuncturists are, in a way, community organizers (more on that below).  Another source for this realization was an article called “Social Service or Social Change” by Paul Kivel (I linked to it in the Forums before I even had a chance to read it thoroughly, because it looked so relevant).  In this article, Mr. Kivel draws a distinction between social services that, while ostensibly helping individuals “get ahead,” in no way challenge the status quo (many nonprofit agencies fall into this category); and social change, which he argues only happens by getting people together.  I highly recommend reading this article and pondering, in particular, the questions on pages 11 and 13 (try substituting relevant phrases such as “chronic pain” or “stress” for his “domestic violence” example).  I also liked this quote from his website:

“Many of us work to prevent acts of violence such as sexual assault, gang conflict, domestic abuse, and hate crimes. We may prune the branches of the tree of violence, but the tree always grows back. Why? We are providing important social service, but it does not lead to profound social change. We may be helping individuals, but it does not lead to community development.” 

Again, you can substitute “pain” or “illness” for violence–or not; it hardly matters since the roots of the tree are the same (or at least deeply entangled).  The more I practice Community Acupuncture, the broader my view of “health” becomes, and the less I believe that true health can be achieved without dealing with these roots.  And it cannot be measured on an individual basis.

Remember how Sarah Palin tried to dismiss Barack Obama’s community organizing work, back when she thought she had her finger on the American pulse?  I didn’t identify as a community organizer then – even now, to apply it to myself feels vanguardist and weird.  But if the question is, “do I want to help people get together?,” the answer is a resounding YES!  A couple of Sundays ago I threw an acupuncture fundraiser for a grassroots social justice media conference that’s happening in Detroit this July.  It seemed like a natural thing to do, as many of my patients happened to be involved in some way or another, and it seemed like a good thing to support (only later did I realize clearly that the affinity is about “getting people together”).  Two of those patients volunteered to help with the fundraiser, greeting folks and answering questions about DCA and the AMC.  Afterwards we were chatting, and they told me that the two of them get together for “energy meetings” to talk about their acupuncture experiences (thoughts and feelings that emerged, etc.)  How wonderful is that?  Now, considering some of the things I was taught when I was in acupuncture school, I *could* worry that they were getting stuff “wrong” – that without ME explaining Chinese Medicine theory, they might misinterpret something.  But how could they possibly misinterpret their own experience?  It would be like a Catholic priest barging into a Quaker meeting house and saying, “you’re doing it wrong! You need MEEEEE!”

It seems clear to me now that the real goal of our clinics has always been to get people together – acupuncture is *almost* just an excuse for that to happen.  OF COURSE we also want people to feel better in the meantime; and certainly having less pain and stress can help people get together and work towards other goals.  Folks don’t need to be in pain to benefit from acupuncture (as “Noodles” points out) – we acupuncturists don’t need patients to NEED us.  They will come and go; they will get together in other ways too.  Acupuncture just happens to be one of the best antidotes to alienation out there – alienation from one’s own self (and no-self), from one’s community, from the broader environment, from the universe.  Therein lies real revolutionary potential.  So grab a needle, chopsticks, fork – whatever you need to eat those noodles – and dig in!

Author: noraneedles

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  1. ’bout them thar books!

    I just got in my “box ‘o’ books” and have not had a chance to read it all yet…..this w/e will do so, but already love the analogy of “digesting” in treatment….wishing I could just cancel my day and sit and read…..BUT am wondering how folks plan to get pts to buy and read the books?  Any thoughts?  I”m pondering a free treatment if they buy and read….would love your ideas!  Maybe they don’t need that much encouragement, I don’t know.


  2. Thanks for helping us break ground

    in this new territory Nora, rethinking the way we view our roles in the community. This is really deep stuff and as always, we would do well to consider the layers of acupuncture school and classist thinking which heavily conditions how we see things. 

    I am getting a box of books on Monday, and today, I spontaneously started plugging it with patients. Like anything, often there is a little learning curve – finding the right words and connections which spark people’s interest. But what’s the alternative?  Sit in your comfort zone and grow cobwebs in your mind, and worry about business expenses or swine flu or whatever fear you can easily grab onto in the moment? No thanks! I’ll choose the wilderness of radical freedom and growth over that any time!


  3. Wow

    “Acupuncture just happens to be one of the best antidotes to alienation
    out there – alienation from one’s own self (and no-self), from one’s
    community, from the broader environment, from the universe.  Therein
    lies real revolutionary potential.”

     I might need to get a tattoo that says that. Thanks, Nora.

  4. Thank you, Nora, for

    Thank you, Nora, for continually bringing such insightful analysis and radical thinking to your blog and posts. 

    Picking up a stack of noodles tomorrow when I’m up in Portland.  I’ve already got at least one copy sold to a patient (who’s going to stop treatment in a month to go to El Salvador to work with community organizers there).  I imagine the rest will get slurped up quick.

    I used to fantasize that there was some magic acupuncture point that I could needle to just fix everything  – stop the empire, restore the land, free the prisoners, make Man City come out ahead of Manchester United.  Now I’m realizing that we’re getting those magic points every day, it’s just distributed a bit more broadly.

    Anything that supports uniqueness and overcomes separation is revolutionary.  I’m feeling some deep deep joy that we’re helping connect people to their wills and making them more effective at living out their true destinies.  It’s happening every day.  And the best thing is that everybody can come.  Where else do you find grannys and teenaged hoodlums napping together?

  5. i have to share

    what just happened with someone.  So one of my clients from a pretty well-off suburb just brought in his fur-coat wearing, made-up wife for a treatment.  I sat her down in the reception area with some paperwork and went back to the treatment area to treat him.  When I came back to check on her she handed me back the paperwork and said, “I changed my mind”.  I asked her why and she said, “oh… my head’s not in it”.  I said no problem, make yourself at home. he’ll be done in a bit.  She picked up the Noodles book and started reading.  I thought to myself, hmmm, she must be put off by something, maybe my dirty carpet, or jeans, or whatever, who knows what.  45 minutes later, by the time her husband was done with her treatment, she had a big smile on her face and started waving around the book and said to us, “This is a great book!  I’ll come back with him next time and get treated! I get it! I’m sorry for being so silly!  Can we borrow this?”

    I love it.  So not only did the book help change her mind about getting community-style acupuncture, she also changed my mind about assuming too much about people who walk in here, ie. fur coat + make up + well-off suburb = elitist.